History is flourishing with heroic figures who gave their lives to serve their people, freedom and justice. Each country can present an endless list of national heroes who are the things to be proud of for all French nation. However, the majority of famous historic figures are men, but women can also be proud of thousands of representatives of their sex made great contribution to the flow of history. One of such women is Joan of Arc, probably the most famous women in West European history.
Thousands of books explore her biography and thousands of academic papers are devoted to this great woman. The subject of the majority of books is the biography of Joan of Ark. In this paper, I am going to explore one of the books devoted to Joan of Arc and provide its critical analysis.
First of all, brief information about Joan of Ark. Joan has a unique role in the history of western Europe. She is one of the most outstanding female heroes of all times. Today, she is known as Saint Joan of Arc and the Maid of Orleans. She is a national heroin of France and one of the main saints of the Catholic Church.
She is an example of true courage and high spirit. The one who had a saint gift, the one who fought for her people and the one who died for her believes. All scientists admire the story of this great woman and all French people are greatly proud of her. Her life was not long, but she did more than many people could do to for an entire century. At the age of 19, she was known through the whole France.
Her story began when she was twelve years old. It was than when she saw her first Divine vision. She said that she saw three Saints: Saint Catherine, Saint Michael and Saint Margaret who said her to escort Dauphin for his coronation in Reims.
Before her historic journey, she was a simple peasant girl without special talents. And nobody could predict that this tiny girl will lead troops of French soldiers to the victory. At the age of 17, she got an interview with the French court at Chinon and made predictions about the military actions near Orleans that amazed everybody presented.
An event that never occurred in history before played a decisive role in the flow of the Hundred Years War. A young girl of 17 was equipped for war, moreover, Dauphin placed her at the head of the army. Ander the leadership of this skillful and amazing girl, the army roused again. Despite all her feat of arms, there was a trial on her. It had a political ground and a poor girl was blamed in things she never did.
Moreover, she was accused of being a witch. Paradoxically, the one who served to Church and to her country was accused of being a witch. At the age of 19, she was burned to death. Then, her body was burned again to ensure that she did not escape. Thus, the authorities believed in her divinity and they were afraid of her. Twenty years later, she was declared innocent and in 1920, she was canonized as a Saint. Today, she is a patron Saint of France.
One can find all this information in a great book by Marina Warner Joan of Arc: the image of female heroism. The book presents a deep insight into the biography of the girl. It opens with the words that attract the reader’s attention and hold it until the last word in the book:
“A story lives in relation to its tellers and its receivers; it continues because people want to hear it again, and it changes according to their tastes and needs. Joan of Arc is the centre of a story so famous that it transcendent the media or the forms that have transmitted it: she is a heroine of history”. (Warner 3).
The book is about the career of Joan of Ark. It consists of three logical parts. The first and the second parts are the story of Joan and the third part deals with the Joan’s influence after her death on different fields of science and peoples’ history: French politics, church, literature, etc. The book is very comprehensive. The author explores Joan as a warrior, a hero and a woman at the same time. She explores medieval history and religious ides. That is how the author characterizes the heroine of the book:
“she has an almost unique standing: she is a universal figure who is female, but is neither a queen, nor a courtesan, nor a beauty, nor a mother, nor an artist of one kind or another, nor – until the extreme recent date of 1920 when she was canonized – a saint.” (Warner 6).
From a very poetical prologue, the author passes to the detailed description and analysis of the Joan’s life. First of all, the author focuses on the question of the appearance of heroine. She explores few portraits of the period, but none of them depicted a real appearance of a girl.
What is interesting is that with the very first pages of the first par, the author claims that Joan was innocent. The author presents the fact that “Joan was a virgin” (Warner 15). At the age of 13, she gave a promise not to marry and until the last day of her life, she was keeping it.
And according to medieval believes, “the devil could not have commerce with a virgin” (Warner 15). The author presents the historical facts taken from the documents of that time. Warner presents a complete description of the character and behavior of the girl, she mentions, “Joan’s beauty, which D’Aulon mentions, adds to the virtuousness of her resistance and becomes a commonplace of the saint’s life later.” (18).
The author also present a detailed description of the Joan’s life when she was a child and during the war. All the soldiers admired her. From the historical survey, we come to know that she was not only a very brave, honest and self-confident, she was a beautiful women. We can suppose that all talks about her beauty were inspired by the beauty of her soul. As we know, at that time the external beauty was less important than the beauty of the inner world.
The author pays a great attention to the divinity of the girl. Different psychological survey put forward an idea that her visions were just an invention of the “ill soul” and girl was simply mad. But how could a mad person do so many good things for her people.
Moreover, isn’t it a miracle that so many strong warriors followed a tiny girl. It should be mentioned that Joan’s visions became one of the main reasons of her death. She was accused of being a witch, because only witches could have connection with the “parallel world of spirits”. So, as the author says about the first section of the book, “in part one, The Life and Death of Jeanne le Pucelle, I have tried to restore her to her own context” (8). And the author managed to do it.
The second section of the book explores the event that took place during the last year of life of the girl. This period is characterized by endless trials and efforts of the Church and authorities to accuse Joan in political and crime of high treason. But, even despite of all accusation, the girl did not lost her faith in God. During the trials, she showed great courage, intellect and wisdom.
However, she could accept all conditions and lead a life of a common peasant, she followed the voice of her soul and the God’s calling. Probably, never before and after the history knew such a glorious woman.
The third part of the book is called The Afterlife of Joan of Arc. This chapter explores the influence of the figure of Joan of Arc after her death. Simultaneously with the story of the Joan’s afterlife, the author explores the peculiarities of every historical epoque that followed the events. She does it through the analysis of literature that was written about Joan during these centuries.
At the very beginning of the book, the author says that history is the product of peoples’ minds and their perception of the better world, “ through this section I hope to have developed the underlying theme that when a story is told, it is told according to the perceptions of its hearers or its readers” (Warner 10). So, during centuries, there was different attitude to the figure of Joan of Arc.
However, one thing is certain, there were not a person I the history that would be indifferent to the image of this girl. Even in the 17th century, when woman could not be treated as a heroine, moreover, as a leader, Joan of Arc remained a source of inspiration for hundreds of writers, major orders, philosophers, etc. She was and she is an exceptional image of a woman:
“Joan is a preeminent heroine because she belongs to the sphere of action, while so many feminine figures or models are assigned and confident to the sphere of contemplation.” (Warner 10).
Thus, the book by Marina Warner Joan of Arc: the image of female heroism is one of the best most comprehensive books about Joan of Arc. Warner presents Joan as a heroic woman, warrior and saint. The author explores every detail related to the heroine. We come to know about Joan’s life and beliefs, about attitudes to the heroine in different times.
It is rather a scientific work, than a fiction book. So, the one who wants to know the history better and get acquainted with different points of view on the historical events, should be completely satisfied with the way the book casts light on the events of the hundred Years War and life of Joan of Arc.
Warner, Marina. Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000.